Tuesday, October 24, 2023

ROCK BLOG #25: Nitrate, Vitalines, Midnite City, Taage and more.

Spotify, it’s a blessing and a curse. I like that I have just about all the albums in my headphones or speakers when they’re released, but I also hate that. Being somewhat obsessed, I want to check out a lot of releases, but It’s not possible for me to listen to music all the time. I always wonder how some people make social media posts about 8-9 albums and say that ”this is my playlist for today” - I couldn’t possibly listen to that many albums in a day, even on a day off work… of course people have different lives, some can play music at work and as background music all the time. 

Back in the day, the number of new, interesting album releases wasn’t nearly as high as these days. Still, I didn’t have access to all of them, and the ones I got were played over and over. Nowadays, living with an album for weeks and weeks isn’t really possible. Depending on the mood, sometimes I just want to go back to the familiar stuff and listen to the all-time favourites or revisit something that I haven’t heard in a while. Should I go back to the 80's style and just listen to one or two albums for a week? But then I'd miss out a lot of music...

Anyway, in this blog entry I’ll go through some of the new stuff I’ve checked out, and possibly some old stuff too. 

There’s been a buzz about the new NITRATE album ”Feel The Heat” (RRRRr), and it’s truly deserved. Now with the Martin Brothers Tom and James (Vega, Khymera, Ted Poley etc) firmly in the band, writing and producing, the band has leaped into the A-list of modern-day AOR bands. The band was formed a few years ago by bassist/songwriter Nick Hogg, and the band’s first album featured vocals by Joss Mennen (Zinatra, Mennen), while the second one was sung by Swedish vocalist Philip Lindstrand. The last two albums the lead singer has been another Swede, Alexander Strandell of Art Nation and Crowne fame. Strandell has a strong hold of the ”Vocalist of the Year” title, with 3 solid releases this year, one from each of his bands! 

With a big-sounding production and some synth wave vibes, this album could very well appeal to a wide audience, especially when in its’ core there are some very catchy and melodic songs. Not that many of the hits of today rely on melodies…

The songs range from pure AOR (check out ”Satellite”, which reminds me of Bad English) to slightly harder-edged, guitar-driven sounds of ”Strike Like A Hurricane” or ”Haven’t Got Time For Heartache”, which sound like songs that could be sold to Scorpions! Personal favourites include also ”Needs A Little Love”, ”All The Right Moves”, ”Wild In The City”… in fact, only the ballads ”One Kiss (To Save My Heart)” (featuring Issa) and ”Stay” haven’t really won me over, even though they are both good songs.

Out of last Friday’s releases, I’ve briefly checked out former On The Rise guy TERJE’s ”Recalibrate” (RRR), which has its moments but also some rather basic hard rock numbers. Solid enough, and harder-rocking than On The Rise. 

DAVE & THE DUDES features former Fighter V vocalist David Niederberger, but musically ”Down For The Count” (RRR) is more timeless classic rock than his previous band. Good-spirited party rock, fun to listen to but none of the songs really left a lasting impression.

VITALINES’ album ”Wheels Within Wheels” (RRRr) is a collaboration between Find Me/Blanc Faces vocalist Robbie LeBlanc and Swedish guitarist/producer Tommy Denander. AOR is the name of the game, some Totoesque moments as usual with Denander’s work and great vocals as usual when Robbie LeBlanc is behind the microphone. Mark Mangold (Touch, Drive,She Said) is also involved, co-writing the standout track ”Love And Thunder”. His old song ”You Never Know With Magic” has been re-recorded for this album, it was previously released on the Mystic Healer album. 

The latest THEOCRACY album ”Mosaic” (RRRR at this point) I’ve only heard once, but despite its’ fairly complicated music, I could easily tell that we’re talking about a very good melodic metal album. I just like Matt Smith’s sense of melody. I will surely give this more spins.

I’ve kind of overlooked MIDNITE CITY’s ”In At The Deep End” (RRRR), another solid album from the band. It was released a while ago but got lost in the shuffle or something like that. The boys have done a good job replicating the sounds of late eighties / early nineties melodic hard rock, with the closest reference being Danger Danger. This might be the most AOR-influenced album of theirs, with several mid-tempo, keyboard-heavy songs. Standout tracks include ”All Fall Down” and ”Girls Gone Wild”, which is really a tribute to Danger Danger, it could be called ”Don’t Blame It On A Shot of Bang Bang Love”! Catchy as hell though, so I’m not complaining.

Another album that really got lost in the shuffle was released back in 2021. We’re talking about a Finnish release with Finnish lyrics, the first solo album from TAAGE, ”Carpe Diem” (RRRR), the vocalist of Kilpi and Altaria. I just never got around to checking it out, although it was available for free at Bandcamp or some other place. Now it’s on Spotify, and today I finally remembered it. And whatdoyaknow, it’s good! All music is written by the mysterious RIITIS, whose name you can find on several Finnish releases, including Circus Of Rock, Transworld Identity and Tuple. He’s a prolific songwriter who writes good melodic rock songs, and he’s been around since the eighties, when his band SKÄDÄM was a rather big name here. 

”Carpe Diem” is more melodic and less metal than Taage’s other bands. You’ll hear touches of Foreigner and Rainbow in these songs. If you’re Finnish, here’s a comparison - imagine a hard rock version of YÖ with good vocals! 

Check out the album from Spotify, and check out also the great single ”Syyskuun 15. Yö”, which isn’t on the album. As far as I know, there isn’t a physical release available.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

ROCK BLOG #24: WEST ALLEY, MASAKI and STRANGERLAND reviews, a few words about PETRA too

This time the focus is on a few newer bands, who have recently released their first albums.

Let’s start with WEST ALLEY. Just like many of the ”newcomers” of recent years, they’ve actually been around the block a few times, and the roots of the band go all the way to the eighties. ”A Night To Remember” (RRRR) is the name of the album, and the title track is the opener. Frankly, it doesn’t represent the sound of the album very well, it’s lightweight west coast pop which reminds me of a cheesy advertisement from the seventies or something like that. But fear not! The band crank it up and start rocking after that, and come up with deliciously melodic songs with nice hooks, one after another. The punchy ”Miracles Can Happen” is my favourite, but ”Angels”, ”How Many Hearts” and ”Colors Of Love” are close behind. Plenty of Toto-isms can be heard, and nods to other AOR greats such as Survivor and Journey. And doesn’t vocalist Marcus Björkroth’s higher register sound quite a lot like Jean Beauvoir’s?

MASAKI might sound like a name for an asian band, but they are from Norway. Looking at their videos I’d guess that the band’s average age is few years less than that of West Alley’s. Some of the band members have been in STONEFLOWER, but for this project they’ve adopted the artist name of their lead singer JOHN MASAKI, who is a profilic performer in the Norwegian music scene. He’s been in Norwegian Idol, several big musicals and other productions. ”FEED THE FLAME” (RRRR) is their debut, and it’s a good album, classic AOR sound with modern pop and prog elements. They have some interesting lyrics too. For example, one of the album highlights ”Angel Wings” seems to take a critical stance at religious hypocrisy. Other noteworthy songs include ”Stone Cold” and ”Almost Paradise”, all three mentioned found their place on my ”Highlights of 2023” playlist. Mr. Masaki himself sounds a lot like Tracy White, the vocalist of Shotgun Symphony and Intruder.

My favourite of these three new releases is STRANGERLAND and their album ”Echoes From The Past” (RRRRr). Strangerland is a project of Greek musician ALEX PATMAN who’s responsible for guitars, keyboards, songwriting and production I believe. The vocals are provided by US singer DAVID CAGLE, who does a fantastic job. His smooth vocals really suit these tracks, which remind me of Treat, Harlan Cage and Khymera. I especially like the melancholic mid-tempo songs ”Until My Heart”, ”Summer Nights” and ”Calling You”, while out of the uptempo ones ”Tears In My Eyes” and ”Whenever It Rains” are among my favourites too. Not to mention the magnificent ballad ”Time”. I’m surprised that this album hasn’t gotten that much attention, it’s certainly one of my top albums of this year.

Apart from new music, during the last few days I’ve been listening to a lot of PETRA albums. They really had a nice streak of three excellent albums in the late eighties, starting with ”This Means War” (1987), followed by ”On Fire” (1988) and ”Beyond Belief” (1990). They released a ”praise” album in 1989 but I’m choosing to ignore that one, it’s not really an album of original Petra songs. 

These three albums are the absolute jewels of the band’s discography, and all three feature the Elefante brothers John and Dino as producers/co-writers. The Elefantes worked on the albums before and after these three, but they’re not in the same league, although both of them do have their moments.

If you’re not familiar with Petra, they’re a Christian rock band with a strong message. They never managed to cross over to mainstream and I don’t think they really tried to, and in the CCM genre they are legends and have still sold millions of records. One can hear the influences of the era on these three albums, the success of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard certainly has had some impact on the production and songwriting.  We did a ”The Big 10” feature on the band some years ago, there you’ll find more about this band.